21st Sunday Year B
August 26, 2012
DISCIPLES AND BELIEVERS
It seems to me the third time in these past few weeks that we have exactly the same response after the first reading: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Why, you might wonder? Why not? This is also the nth time in a row of Sundays when we are given repetitive reminders about the great Sacrament of the Eucharist.
But before I delve into something at one and the same time sacrosanct and deeply theological stuff, let me lay the human foundations first.
Let me first remind you what transpired in the first reading, and what the second reading seems to be calling our attention to.
The first reading reminds me of a graduation ceremony. The time has come to say goodbye and reap rewards at the end of a well-done journey and well-spent time working. Joshua, who led the people into the promised land, on behalf of Moses, was just about to say good-bye. But parting, among other things, has to do also with assessing. It has to do with knowing who’s who, and who’s for whom, and who values and appreciates what. It has to do with confronting one’s avid followers with a choice of a lifetime. “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve.”
Tough choice, I must say! Life is full of options … then, and especially, now. Just the thought of choosing one bath soap in favor of another can be temporarily paralyzing. I know for a fact that graduating seniors in high school spend endless agonizing hours making a decision which university to go to, or what course to take, or, in our local Philippine scene, even going to further schooling, at all, or trying to eke out half a living by working, and earn subsistence wages (if one can find work!).
But more often than not, our choices have to do with much more important issues. This, the second reading seems to highlight. Should I submit to authority? Should I obey my parents? Should couples lay down the law about who is boss? Should groups of people define exactly the boundaries beyond which all members are not allowed to venture?
Tough decisions, they are, I must confess!
In married relationships, who should wear the pants in the house? Who is to “lord it over” the family? Who is to submit to whom? Unfortunately, the passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians often is easily misinterpreted in the light of contemporary sensibilities. But whilst men often use this as a passport to behave oppressively over their wives, - and, women, in general – the whole tenor of the passage does not have anything to do with oppression, but with “submission” to one another. The first verse in the passage (v. 21) lays down the principle clearly: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
No … it has nothing to do with choosing men over women; husbands over wives; rulers over subordinates; leaders over followers. And yes … it has to do with mutual subordination; mutual obedience – a situation of a two-way relationship between two equals, who each has his or her unique role to play in that relationship.
It is not about choosing for … Nor is it about choosing against.
It is, on the contrary, about deciding. And deciding has to do, not with putting down one so as to heighten somebody else, but simply deciding … simply choosing the good … simply selecting that which makes one better … and standing by one’s decision as disciples … as followers … as believers.
The Gospel, which closes the series of Sundays dedicated to the Eucharist, would have us see the Lord also “confronting” his erstwhile followers. Some of them were followers for a season … they came looking for food … they came looking for healing and well-being … Many of them left when the teaching got a little too hard to swallow!
The Lord knew that the time has come for them to decide. “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”
I would like to suggest that we, too, are exactly in the same predicament. Some of us are followers for a season. Bonhoeffer called them “fair-weather Christians.” They trailed the Lord behind, for they were waiting to be fed – and not much more. Some of us are followers for a reason. We look for meaning in our lives. We look for solutions to our problems. And when either, or both, are not forthcoming in our lives, despite all our noisy proclamations and protestations, we complain … we murmur, like the Jews who followed Jesus the wonder-worker: “This teaching is too hard.” The Gospel of today tells us: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
Life is too difficult, at times … in our times! We are hopelessly divided. Disunity and strife envelop us when it comes to certain contentious topics. In our pluralistic society, many of us can’t tell the difference between “catholics for life” and “catholics for choice” and even “catholics for RH,” – and so many others. Many claim to be disciples of the Lord, but some see nothing much about discipleship, but a whole lot of dissent and disagreement. Many claim to believe, but at the same time, claim to belong to some other allegiance. Some authors refer to them as “cafeteria catholics” who look around, shop around, and choose that and only that which runs in parallel lines with what they already believe. They claim to be followers for a reason, but end up being followers only for a season, when the times are good … when the teachings are acceptable … when the hierarchy does not rock the boat … when they tell me only things I want to hear!
Today, the Lord confronts us too. I know that the teachings are too hard. I am the first to acknowledge that. As one in the front lines of evangelization, I am the first to accept the fact that God’s ways are not man’s ways, and that His will is so difficult to understand, and even more difficult to fulfill. As a sinner myself, ever conscious of my personal fragility, I acknowledge that the demands He makes sometimes requires heroic courage and steadfast allegiance to moral truth that is simply hard to follow. When I, as confessor, hear about the daily struggles of people, in their attempts at being both disciples and believers, I know I am face-to-face with a reality that is, at one and the same time, “most personal and most universal.”
The Lord confronts us not so much to make a choice, as to make a stand: “Do you also want to leave?”
I know of one who did take a stand – in favor of being a disciple and a believer at the same time: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
It is not about choosing one over against another … It is all about deciding … to stay on being both a disciple and a believer … This is what we, too, are called to do. Joshua’s decision might help us here: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”